Spending a day with “Songs of Praise”

Prof Adam Cumming

Chairperson of the Trustees, Scotland’s Churches Trust

In his latest blog for us, our Trust Chairperson, Prof Adam Cumming, reflects on his recent experience spending a day filming an episode of the long-running BBC programme“Songs of Praise” programme in autumnal Edinburgh.

The episode aired on the 29th October and can be watched on the BBC iPlayer here for a year. It’s well worth a look!

Having previously given some talks on Scottish churches and having acted as a tour guide for Edinburgh World Heritage Trust, when EWHT was approached by the Songs of Praise team to see if they could recommend somebody who could have a chat with their presenter about Edinburgh’s historic churches they very kindly recommended me. After some thought I agreed. It was an interesting experience. The team provided an indication of the sort of topics that they wished to cover including questions and possible sites, and these were discussed at a preliminary meeting.

In the end, recording just a few conversations took a whole day. The filming and re-filming of the discussion made for a fascinating time. We met at St Cuthbert’s and talked there and then went to the Magdalen Chapel in the Cowgate where I talked outside. They had already been to Duddingston Kirk and to Saint Margaret’s Chapel in the Castle.

My role was not to talk inside the buildings, as they had other people to do that, but to do the introduction to some of the places, and my contribution ended in Parliament Square on the site of the supposed grave of John Knox.

There was a lot recorded and only a small part made its way into the final programme. That is hardly surprising, but I regret that some of what I said did not make it past the edit. The team were very focused on the Reformation and specifically John Knox, but we had discussed how the Scottish Reformation differed from England, and that these social changes were not as straightforward as some people think. Naturally, I mentioned the work of Scotland’s Churches Trust championing Scotland’s religious built heritage today, but that also did not make the final cut!

It was, as I say, a fascinating experience watching them record the episode in various locations, taking an active part, while working with the presenter Claire McCollum and the production team. I was wired up with a remote microphone for most of the day and I even learned a new use for a disposable shower cap, you can use it to protect a boom microphone from the Edinburgh rain! Strange what you discover…

Continuity is vital. You need to be consistent, and you have to make sure that you’re in the right place and looking the same.  At one point I had to rush back to get my umbrella because I had it up during the previous shot.

The production team clearly work hard to produce each episode of this well-made, long-running television programme and it provided a wonderful opportunity to share with a wider audience the hidden church gems in Edinburgh. I hope it will inspire many more people to look further and see more – particularly important just now with church buildings under threat!

I certainly enjoyed the day and I should be doing some more talks and leading other tours around central Edinburgh over the next year; some with Edinburgh World Heritage Trust and some talks with other bodies such as the National Trust for Scotland, the Saltire Society and, of course, Scotland’s Churches Trust.

Still images courtesy of the BBC Songs of Praise episode “Edinburgh’s Religious Treasures” that aired on the 29th October 2023 and is available for a year on BBC iPlayer here